Discernment, Theology, Uncategorized

The Means by Which God Speaks to His Church

The canon of Scripture was not an after the fact development, but something woven deep into the fabric of God’s redemptive plan. Since the close of the canon in the first century, the Word of God alone is the means by which God speaks to his church.

Previously, He spoke to His people in various ways – In Old Testament times, He spoke to people directly on occasion, revealed Himself through dreams or particular signs (as with Gideon), revealed Himself through the casting of lots and through theophanies. The primary way God communicated with the people of Israel was through the prophets, beginning with, “Thus says the Lord.” The words of the prophets were set down in writing and became the Word of God. Thus the Old Testament was produced.

“Whatever Scripture says God says.” – B.B. Warfield

In the New Testament, the counterpart to the prophet was the Apostle. Having received a direct call by Christ, the term “apostle” refers to one who is sent or commissioned with authority of the One doing the sending.

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” – Matthew 10:40

The prophets and the apostles together form the very foundation of the church. Through both the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament, we were given a written record of special revelation. It has come to us by Christ’s authorized agents of revelation, His emissaries.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” – Ephesians 2:19 – 21

Christianity is based ultimately on knowledge that comes to us from God himself. Holding to that conviction is vitally important for our determination of truth. When we open the pages of Scripture, may we humbly bow before the Lord. God has spoken. As His church, may we learn the Bible, live the Bible, and love the Bible.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” – Hebrews 1:1-2

Praise God who humbled himself by using mere mortals to communicate his infallible word. We have the written Word, but we also have the Word incarnate, the One about whom the written Word speaks. The One who embodies the very word of God.

Anxiety, Biblical Counseling, Fear

Withstanding the Winds of Change

We find comfort in our routines, locations, relationships, and health. Change, whether positive or negative, brings stress into our day-to-day lives. When life is interrupted, emotions run high. When fear of the future presents itself, we have questions: What if I lose my job? What if my family must relocate? What if my husband walks out? What if Mom doesn’t recover? Left unchecked, “what if” lodges in the crevices of the heart… anxiety takes a foothold.  

Oftentimes, the struggle comes with things like loss of sleep, and even completing small tasks can become big challenges. When we aren’t careful, we can easily turn into problem-focused people. Becoming comfortable with a self-focused, “victim” identity is dangerous. But how can Christians withstand the winds of change? Thriving in the midst of change isn’t a matter of girding up our loins and doing the best we can. A sudden turn in life events provides opportunity to rely on God. Persevering through life’s changes requires that we continue asking God for help. 

“Our worries tend to imagine a future without God in it. Without God we have to prepare for those future threats on our own. Life gradually gets smaller. Our mission to trust Jesus and love other people gets temporarily lost amid our future preparations.” – Ed Welch, Author/Counselor 

What outcomes can we expect if we simply choose to resist change? Unrealized expectations tempt ungodly thoughts and words, which works to erode our spiritual lives. Resistance to change encourages bitterness. We should learn to identify the warning signs and pressures that would lead us to shaky ground. Christians ought to be careful about what goes into our minds; who we listen to and what we hear. We believe we know what is best for us, yet many times (most times), change precedes growth. Sudden life change is a time when we have an opportunity to listen to God.  

1 Peter 5:6-7 

Living in harmony with God’s word provides stability in times of adjustment. A God-focused mentality shifts our priorities. Practical ways cultivate spiritual life and health in the midst of change. Practices like initiating a regular quiet time, meditating on the scriptures, and spending time in prayer is, in fact, peace giving. Consistency in Bible reading and study strengthens our foundation during those days when Satan’s delight would have us crumble. In adversity, we have an opportunity to focus on God. 

Psalm 119:105; Deuteronomy 31:8; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 33:11 

Interruption gains our attention and we yearn for absolutely anything concrete. Hebrews 13:8 is a reminder that our God is not like us: A God of permanence is one without change. His love for us will never change and we can trust the unchanging word of God. In times of transition, we would do well to pause and remember what we know to be true rather than rushing to the “what ifs.” An almighty God is sovereign over all in all times. 

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8” 

Malachi 3:6; Exodus 3:14-15; Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 1:19; Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 123:1; Philippians 4:8 

Is there danger in dwelling on what once was, what we had, what we knew? Yes. Pouring over the past is a lame way to face what’s ahead. If we are not intentional to fix our gaze on Christ, the difficulties with sudden life change can knock the wind out of our sails. In confidence, we reflect not on us but upon His faithfulness in the past as a reminder of what He will do in the future. 

Healthy reflection dwells on the revealed promises of God rather than relying on experience after experience. Those internal tensions are resolved when walking by faith paramounts feelings and experience. His word brings clarity when our eyes blur in blowing winds. Through the scriptures, God is speaking to us right now. Our goal should be to hear the word of the Lord in such a way that it drowns out “what ifs.” Genuine faith both allows and requires that we trust God in times of uncertainty. 

Hebrews 12:10-11; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28; John 16:33 

Remember, the way of faith is far better than the way of sight. Ask yourself, are you living consistently reliant upon God? His love is not tied to nor dependent upon our circumstances. God cares much more about transforming our hearts and minds than leaving us in our places of comfort. Faithfully withstanding the winds of change requires we rely on God, listen to God, and focus on God. 

Biblical Counseling, Topical Study

Idols of the Heart

When it comes to broken relationships, the issue is never really the issue. We don’t have relationship problems; we have character flaws that show up in relationships. When we are God-centered, we choose to live our lives for God, resulting in doing things according to God’s standards. When we are self-centered, we choose to live our lives for ourselves, resulting in doing things according to our own agenda. In doing so, we become a product of our idols of the heart.

Psalm 119:105

2 Timothy 3:1-4

The three reasons a Christian will not obey God are a lack of knowledge, a lack of skill, and wrongful will. Essentially, the Christian can fall in three categories: They could lack maturity in the Word and not know any better, they could not have been properly discipled and don’t know how to obey, or they could choose to live in sin, with a hardened heart and refusal to obey. Having knowledge and choosing to live in sin is a result of stubbornness and rebellion.

Oftentimes, there is a choice to make in the midst of difficult relationships, and it could be that God is teaching you something about yourself through people around you; God is using them to expose who you are. Choosing to live God-centered lives requires we live by covenants and convictions: We live by God’s own agenda. Man-centered lives are based on feelings and man’s own agenda. When we choose to live for ourselves instead of living for God, we will live in slavery to sin. When we choose to live for God instead of living for ourselves, we live in slavery to God.

Galatians 5:16-25

Proverbs 5:22

Romans 6:22

Whoever controls your mind controls your decisions. When our thoughts are not in tune with the will of God, they are driven to self. Our choices are driven by our thoughts. When we are self-centered, our thoughts are dominated by lies and self-ambition. As a result of those lies and self-ambitions, our thoughts tend to be driven by and reduced to what we have been denied, what we believe we deserve, what we want, what we think we should have, or what we think we need. We become friends with the world and unfriend God.

Romans 8:5

James 3:13-18; 4:1-10

God-centered thinking is dominated by truth and wisdom. In obedience, we can focus on what God has done with a willingness to serve him rightly. We are driven by what God promises to do for us and when to expect it; we tend to focus not only on what God is doing, but also what we can be doing for others and how to do it accordingly.

Focus once more on James 3:17-18. Our thoughts are motivated by either the flesh or the Holy Spirit. When our thoughts are motivated by the sin in our hearts, we become preoccupied with issues such as whatever brings me pleasure apart from God, independence from authority (not having to answer to anyone), materialism, and entitlement. This thinking only leads to further disobedience to God. Ultimately, this leads to a guilty conscience, a fear of God’s judgment, and a desire to flee consequences.

2 Timothy 3:1-9

Proverbs 28:1

When our thoughts are motivated by the Holy Spirit, we tend to be preoccupied with a desire to know Jesus Christ, to become like Christ, and to being useful to Christ. Our focus is on not only the blessings in this life but also the life to come. This thinking leads to further obedience to God, with a desire to draw ever nearer.

Galatians 5:22-25

When our thoughts are driven by the flesh we will begin to worship our desires, turning them into the lusts in our lives. Our minds will be set on things below instead of heavenly things, leading us to make self interest a priority over God’s own will. We focus less and less on loving God and loving others. We focus more on using God and using others in accordance to self interest. We become servants of our flesh to satisfy these desires we have started to worship. Our desires that we treasure and worship above loving God and loving others are idols of the heart.

James 3-4:3

Philippians 3:17-19

Galatians 5:16-21

As we make choices according to the desires we have begun to worship, we will find ourselves on a path of difficulty and hard times; we will become a slave to that which we pursue. Sinful habits are hard to repent from and replace. Once developed, they become a result of wrongful worship and misplaced love. Reaping negative consequences of our sinful habits and pursuit of those desires is inevitable. In turn, we have a negative effect on the lives of those around us.

Proverbs 5:21-22; 13:15

2 Peter 2:18-19

Galatians 6:7-8

1 Corinthians 5:1-6

Through the Person, power, and precepts of Jesus Christ, we can turn from a self-centered life to a God-centered life. To do so, we must identify the areas of our lives where we are dominated by lies and self-ambition. This process necessitates the specifics of where this is happening in our attitudes, intentions, desires, actions, relationship patterns, and service to God. Bringing healing and restoration requires we confess and repent of these things accordingly. We must consciously decide to to make God a priority in all that we think, say, and do.

Romans 13:8-14

Proverbs 28:13-14

1 Corinthians 10:31

Areas of our lives where we become dominated by lies, selfish ambition, materialism, entitlement, and lustful pursuits must be replaced with specific obedience to God in those areas. In other words, we must guard our hearts from self-centeredness by walking in genuine love for God and others in our attitudes, intentions, desires, words, actions, relationship patterns, and service.

Colossians 3:1-25

Luke 9:23-25

1 John 1:9

Ephesians 4:17-32

Philippians 2:5

When reflecting on past choices you have made, were you self centered or God centered in your decision making? Identify thought patterns which might be rooted in lies and selfish ambition. What desires have you allowed to become a form of worship, further complicating life? What thoughts, motives, words, actions and relationship patterns, and service do you need to walk in to replace sin? You can honor God when you recognize, repent and replace, and walk in the Spirit.

For a related post see: https://debbieswindell.com/2019/09/25/whats-your-idol/

Uncategorized

Is God Doing Nothing in Our Waiting?

All of us face troubles at some time that are out of our control. It’s what you do while you wait on God that shows where you stand in your faith. How many times do we present our requests to God only to take them back and try to work them out ourselves (when it seems like the answer is taking too long)? Is God doing nothing in our waiting? The truth is that the timing of God is always perfect even when it appears that it may be too late. Just because you can’t see what God is doing in your struggle does not mean he is doing nothing. It means his plan is higher than yours and it has a greater outcome. 

The suffering in the life of a believer has a deliberate, divine purpose in bringing you to a greater knowledge of the God you serve. When you suffer through a painful trial, keep in mind that God knows it. He saw your situation long before you were born and He is with you to the end. Abraham’s troubled world presented stark similarities to ours today: death, doubt, and desire. 

God granted Isaac as a miracle child to Abraham and Sarah, keeping His promise to them. Esau and Jacob were an answer to prayer. A miraculous birth, Samuel was given to Hannah. Samson was given and God used him to judge Israel. Then ultimately, the virgin Mary gave birth to our Savior of this world. The culmination of God’s promises were evidenced in birth.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15

God revealed and kept his promises to Abraham and yet, the behavior of his descendants are baffling. Although redeemed for the divine agenda of the world, Isaac mirrored his father’s wrongful actions by taking matters into his own hands. By God’s graciousness, in the end Isaac was transformed. Having become rich in a foreign land, he eventually made it back to the land of promise. In Jacob’s dream, God would confirm his identity as the God of Abraham and Isaac. Having sought betrayal, Jacob would receive the blessing. God’s mercy was revealed in the covenant that was restated again and again. Blessings became connected to God’s redemptive presence. 

“Many reasons for God’s designs are beyond our understanding…Hence in every case we should marvel at his wisdom and praise his ineffable love.” – Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople

An omniscient God is never taken by surprise; God knows his people (both then and now) fail. Although we cannot fathom the depths of God’s love, we see in the generations of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob an unworthy people reaffirmed as Israel. God continues to rescue his people and ultimately, rescue is displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ. Yahweh is simultaneously the covenant maker and our covenant keeper, as he continues the rescue today. 

As the God-man, Jesus shed his own blood for us and was raised from the dead to free us from the curse of sin. He will live with His people forever. The promise of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the promise God has fulfilled for us in Jesus. Christ is our Emmanuel, God with us.

“…love which stoops and sacrifices and services, love which is kind to the unkind and generous to the ungrateful and undeserving.” – John Stott

God reminds us of his missional promises as He continues to rescue unlikely and unworthy people. He supremely displays grace, coming to meet us as we are, though God be complete and perfect within himself. It’s vital we remember what’s most important about the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection: It’s not the benefits it gets us but rather the gospel giving us God himself. He will be our God and yes, we will be His people, and we will be together enjoying Him forever. You are never without hope if you believe. That is a promise Jesus Christ died to give you. 

Topical Study, Uncategorized

Lament or Complaint? Consider the Difference.

Although “lament” and “complaint” have some things in common, biblically they cannot be mistaken for each other. Time after time, we see God’s dissatisfaction with complaining and grumbling; most evident are the grumbling Israelites in Exodus. Lamenting, however, seems common and acceptable. How can we express ourselves openly and honestly to God without being offensive? Lament or Complaint? Consider the difference.

Complaint reveals belief in a God who is unreliable. His Word clearly distinguishes complaint as a sin and stumbling block (Philippians 2:14). The grumbling Israelites did not have faith that God was good (Exodus 15:22-24; 16:1-3), and their grumbling led them into wandering 40 years in the wilderness. Complaint does not please God, it offends Him.

Far different from faithless grumble, words of lament are the words of one trusting in the God to whom he cries out. An example would be Psalm 22, which begins with cries of anguish but moves on to praises for a God who has worked in the past. The lament shows reliance on the Lord for his provision and protection. Psalm 22 is directed to the God who answers prayers. Lament does not offend God.

Psalm 22:1-21

Psalm 22-31

Psalm 46

Author of Tyndale’s Commentary of the Psalms, Tremper Longman asks the question, “While it’s wonderful that God invites our laments, how often does he answer them?” His answer: “Not all the time—so what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to lament forever? ‘The general teaching of Scripture is that a more mature level of suffering is to move from lament to confidence, just like Psalm 46 does.”

In the words of Michael Card, “It’s easy to praise God when things in your life are going well, but what about the other times? What happens when mountaintop experiences cascade into seasons of struggling in the valley? God expects us to pour out our hearts to Him, whether in joy or pain. But many of us don’t feel right expressing our anger, frustration and sadness in prayer. Our personal worship experience is not complete unless we understand the lost language of lament.”

As Christians, we are a blessed people to have the stories of biblical characters to use as a guide for daily living. From examples of Job to David, we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that our Savior has not forsaken us – In the darkest of times, He is often seen the brightest. Yet, we need not pretend all is well when it comes to our personal prayer. Important to note: Complaint talks about God. Lament talks to God.

Have we lost the practice of lamenting in Christian worship? We can praise our God with laughter and tears in all seasons of life! His glory is seen no less.

Discernment, Reading

Developing Discernment in Choices for Reading: Why it Matters

“I think I will just read dead people,” I remarked as the penned words (freshly planted in my memory) hit the trash can. Confirmation of early morning news revealed the deplorable acts committed by a popular author, grandson of an evangelical icon. Yet, the flow of his work, piercing words camouflaged as wisdom, lurked in the crevices of my mind. Developing discernment in choices for reading is vital.

Reading Christian authors can help guide us into growth-producing habits fostering well being. Although, when lacking theological wisdom, they can distort readers’ understanding of the gospel and encourage practices that foster spiritual ill being. Sadly, reliance on a best seller’s list or label is not helpful – Popularity is no indicator of solidity. How can Christians learn to discern which books are worth reading and which to avoid?

TIP ONE: Never judge a book by its cover.

Do your homework.Jackets are marketing ploys using catchy titles and trendy graphics. Drawing the reader’s eye, they rarely offer hints to an unbiblical worldview promoted by some well-intentioned Christian authors. Today’s publishers meet responsible Christians with a need to do research beyond summaries and endorsements: At the very least, Google the author’s church membership and education. Remember, guard your heart and mind: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7

TIP TWO: Question modern-day writings. They are not the Gospel.

Today’s authors often prey on emotions and vulnerability of women. Mysticism and felt-needs psychology are woven into writings, subtly leading the reader to a spirituality more about experiences than beliefs. Publications undermining Scripture (masked in “I feel” and “I think” and not what God’s Word says) warrant rejection. These unhealthy core teachings of a writer’s work spill over into the reader’s thinking. Stand guard against the enemy: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” – Romans 1:21

We’ve become reckless and lazy in our choices, reading memes of positivity and superficial devotionals. Despite their use of biblical language, the voice of many authors is not the Gospel. Whitewashing our sin and desperation of forgiveness diminishes the central message of the Christian faith. The uniqueness of salvation and our identity in Jesus Christ is at the heart of spiritual growth.

Above all, any book distorting the gospel has no place in the hands of a Christian reader. Quite the contrary, works on the attributes of God, apologetics, and spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are faith building! When coupled with Scripture, Christ-centered reading inspires awe and prompts change. Seeking God-honoring life enrichment, rooted in biblical truth, acknowledges He has spoken amidst the pages of Scripture. Period. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

TIP THREE: Read!

Return to the classics. Pick up a novel. Read for sheer pleasure and have a heart of gratitude for all of God’s good gifts to us! That is to say, not all books at our bedside must bear the name of Christ. In the event they do, His name deserves being represented rightly.

For additional help, see: https://debbieswindell.com/2019/04/30/read-but-read-well/